Why can't we treat phone spam like email spam?

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This article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of CRN magazine.

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Why can't we treat phone spam like email spam?

COMMENT  |  We’ve pretty much got email spam solved. If you take the time to choose your email provider wisely, most of us hardly see any email spam these days, unless we dig into the spam folder looking for that one item that was accidentally parked there even though it was legit. Sure, there are those who persist with legacy, free email providers who just leave the floodgates open, but for most of us, spam isn’t a thing anymore.

Today, I’d like to talk about phone spam, which has reached epic proportions, as I am sure you are all aware.

It used to be easy to spot phone spam before you answered the call. Weird numbers from countries you’d never heard of. Or ‘private callers’ you could safely ignore, except for that one friend who refused to stop wearing the tinfoil hat, and forced you to answer all the spam calls just in case it was them.

Or the only other genuine private caller, the Telstra account overdue robocall thing. But Rabid has a theory on that. They hope you won’t answer, so they can legitimately slap another $15 late payment on your account, and claim “we tried to contact you”. Like Telstra can’t manage to put a caller ID on a phone call. Ahem.

But now, the spam calls come with mobile phone caller IDs, and lately, landline caller IDs with the same first four digits as everyone else in your suburb. And call me a conspiracy theorist, but this practice seems to have escalated along with the rollout of the NBN. Nah, must be a coincidence.

And now, phone spam is more likely than not a robocall, so you don’t even get the luxury of barking expletives at the poor third-world operative trying to earn a few dollars to buy food. Nope. Now it’s “Hello, this is the (ATO/nbn/Telstra/power company) and we are going to (disconnect you/sue you/jail you/kidnap your children) if you don’t press 1 and send us all your money”.

Of course, that’s the actual spam calls, not the silent spam call that’s just establishing what time of day you will actually answer the phone. The silence is there to listen for the beep, to make sure you’re really at home and not an answering machine. Gotcha! We’ll call again soon and ask for the iTunes cards.

Can everyone out there in telco land just hand their phone network off to Google or one of the other email behemoths? Those companies have already got their spam filters fine-tuned. Gotta be a market opportunity there for some entrepreneur.

Rabid’s spam stopper is more of a DIY solution. We’ve rented a virtual PBX with Interactive Voice Response (IVR for you nerds out there).

“Hello, thank you for calling Rabid Reseller. If you are a real person and would like to speak to Rabid please press 1. If you are a spammer or robocaller, and deserve to die in a ditch, please press 2.”  Those robots just can’t figure out how to press 2.

Works almost every time!

Gotta go! That one friend with a blocked number is calling again. I think….  

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